‘An American in Paris’ (in St. Louis)


I had the privilege of watching Christopher Wheeldon’s Tony Award-winning musical, “An American in Paris,” at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, and did not know what to expect. I was treated to a very artistic portrayal of the human struggle to continue life after experiencing World War II. If I were insensitive to the potency a war can have on affected individuals, I may have seen just another love triangle story. It was clear to see that the technical aspects were not carrying the show, but rather the actors’ performances.

The show opened with a very minimalistic set; there was simply a piano and a projected screen of a large Arc De Triomphe in the back. As the scene transitioned, the piano quite impressively disappeared under the cover of the French flag in a matter of seconds.  This feat caused my expectations to rise. Unfortunately, they must have risen too high because they were not met again for the remainder of the play. The set managed to portray locations obviously, but there was no more innovation or creativity to applaud. The majority of the set was carried by background projections, which is a little lazy when one of the major themes of the musical was art. While the set did not trick me into thinking I was in Paris, the costumes most certainly took me back to the 1950s, especially with the colorful and extravagant dresses.   

After attending many modern musicals in past years, a classic musical like “An American in Paris” was refreshing. With a strong cast filled with Tony winners and nominees, the songs and dance numbers did not disappoint. I did not buy the soundtrack when I got home, but I did find myself humming to one of their first songs, “I Got Rhythm.” This musical really became an artistic piece once the ballet began. With several scenes of dancing with no dialogue, I often found myself questioning whether I was watching a ballet or a musical. The dance steps were able to convey the plot, and the cast must be applauded. They beautifully balanced dance and song. The lead actress, four-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn, played the role of a gifted dancer, and Kuhn definitely did her character justice. Furthermore, although Tony and Drama Desk nominee Howard McGillin played an American soldier, his dancing skills were still certainly up to par with that of his co-lead actress.

The plot is straightforward with no surprises; it simply tells the tale of one Frenchman and two American men in love with a French dancer in post-war Paris. Although the show is light-hearted, it ends up delivering a heavy message as the curtain falls. This musical was able to show that amongst a French dancer, American veterans and an affluent French industrialist, the war spared no one. Each character goes on his or her personal journey of transformation, as it becomes apparent that the main conflict is not winning someone’s love, but rather learning to love life freely again after the war.

“An American in Paris” is playing at the Fox Theatre through Jan. 29, 2017. It is nothing comparable to musicals such as “Phantom of the Opera” or “Les Misérables,” but nonetheless is still worth purchasing a ticket. It is a beautiful treat to see and hear, and gives you a real taste of life after World War II. It reminds us that even after experiencing the darkest of times, we must not stop ourselves from finding joy. Don’t hesitate, and let an award-winning cast show you how to “build a stairway to paradise with a new step ev’ry day!”

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